- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

The big lug is back. After six months licking his exit wounds, The Man From Hope Bill Clinton held the first rally of his ex-presidency up in Harlem. It was, perhaps, ironic that it took Bill Clinton to push, if briefly, Rep. Gary Condit off the cable news shows. I couldn't help thinking that we might be seeing the Democratic dream ticket for 2004:

Condit/Clinton. It would pair up nicely with Bush/Cheney Condit/Clinton would be the evil version of the young buck and the old pro. The media would love it. They could glide seamlessly from the Condit story to the presidential campaign without breaking to cover the sitting president, George Bush, at all.

In fact they already have. After a weekend of flourishes and fanfares to herald Mr. Clinton's arrivals, they pre-empted President Bush's speech to a group of African American police officers to cover Big Bill's glorious return to Harlem. The Washington Post ran, as a set-up piece, a front page, above the fold, 70 column-inch story on "His" return.

MSNBC provocatively headlined one segment of its coverage: "Ex- president sets up shop in nation's premier black enclave, and a long love affair continues." It was later reported that Hillary couldn't make the Harlem rally, and the "long love affair" turned out to be a collective one with America's African American population.

Somehow I doubt it was a tough network decision to cover an ex-president opening up his office rather than a major speech by the sitting president. Heck, the American public has never seen the ritual opening of an ex-president's office before. Of course, all of our other former presidents simply wandered into their new offices and sat down. Only Bill Clinton would alert the media. And only our dear media would respond to the call.

But Mr. Clinton didn't just alert the media. As The Post pointed out in its lead sentence: "Bill Clinton this week will begin a second attempt at launching his ex-presidency." I have followed presidential departures since Eisenhower, but until today I have never seen an ex-presidency "launched." Ships are launched. Rockets are launched. Campaigns are launched. But ex-presidencies?

However, The Post is a careful newspaper, and its reporting discloses that launch is precisely the right word. The Post reports that Mr. Clinton has assembled some of his top political operatives "to help plot a strategy … to reintroduce to the public in a new role."

It will be fascinating to watch the re-introduction. After eight years, I would have thought we knew far too much about him already. He must be planning one hell of a makeover.

One begins to get a hint of where this launched ex-presidency is headed when The Post reported that Mr. Clinton's pollster, Mark Penn, released a poll to them revealing that 48 percent of the public "would be more comfortable with Clinton as president," while only 36 percent felt that way about Mr. Bush. Incidentally, when did ex-presidents start using pollsters? Today, I guess.

According to one of his operatives, his former Chief of Staff John Podesta, "The issues that animated his presidency are still the ones he wants to work on and make a contribution to. He wants to leave footprints. I think people are ready to listen again." I suppose those footprints will have to be noisy, if the people are to hear them.

Mr. Clinton doesn't make any political moves haphazardly. While the rest of the nation has been going about its business with little thought of Mr. Clinton's ex-presidency, The Post reports that in the Clinton camp, "All winter and spring, an internal debate brewed" over how he should respond to the alarming collapse of his approval numbers. In what has to be one of the cruelest sentences in the English language, one of his aides is quoted as saying: "This is not about getting ready for 2002 or 2004. This is about the next 20 years."

Yes, it's true. Mr. Clinton is planning to be in our face, and in the media, for the next 20 years. Eight years wasn't enough. Actually, we should be grateful for his restrained ego. At only 54 years of age, if Mr. Clinton were to take the right herbs and roots or perhaps have his genes tweaked in the Cayman Islands he could reasonably have planned to intrude into our lives for 30 or 40 years. As it is, the nation will be Clinton-free by 2021 if he keeps his word.

E-mail: tonyblankley@erols.com

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